Perhaps the most elaborate backdrop for Columbus North High School’s “Our Town” surfaces not in a grand set but in huge symbolism that serves as a structure for wisdom amid a small town’s life and death.
Stage surroundings remain so spartan that cast members must mime basic actions such as cooking.
All the better to spotlight the characters themselves amid the daily routine in quaint and fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, as playwright Thornton Wilder saw it.
“Sometimes a large set can be almost overwhelming to an audience,” actress Emily Sipes said.
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She plays Emily Gibbs, a young mother who ultimately helps shape some of the show’s strongest life lessons. In the production running Friday through Sunday, a theater stage manager narrates and guides the audience through everyday scenes meant to be savored and treasured.
“One of the moral lessons is about appreciating what you have — and learning to make every moment a meaningful one,” Sipes said.
Director Julie Hult remembers first seeing the production as a teen when North last presented it.
“It was the first time I was moved to tears by a live production of anything,” Hult said. “That kind of thing sticks with you when you’re 16.”
The play means so much to her that, three years ago, she had North drama department head John Johnson perform part of her marriage ceremony to her husband Bob by including an excerpt from Act II of the production.
Actor Ciaran Hill, like stagemate Sipes, first read the play in an eighth-grade literature class. At that age, he found the work dry and boring. Today, as he has seen the characters’ nuances played out on stage, his view has changed considerably.
“It’s incredibly powerful,” Hill said. “The goal of the actors is to allow the subplots and the deeper meanings to really pop out and become apparent to the audience.
“And all of that really manifests itself at the end of the play, which is a very dramatic moment.”
Hult has preached to her cast about the importance of the show’s smallest of details to convey powerful symbolism and meaning.
“Perhaps the small detail they are most aware of from my rantings is the scripted use of the old hymn, ‘Blest Be the Tie that Binds.’ I asked my literature students for years and now I’m asking my actors, ‘What are the ties that bind us together?’
“In a world where divisions are everywhere, what is it that, at the end of the day, makes us all human?” Hult asked. “I believe this play makes it perfectly clear in its simplicity.”
She has turned to elements of the stripped-down story for emotional support at the most significant times of her life in recent years. Her cast members, still learning to see the work’s layers of meaning, still sees it as relatable for teens willing to ponder its themes.
“I see this material as timeless,” Sipes said.
Even without the dressing of meticulously constructed sets and props.
What: Columbus North High School’s presentation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Thornton Wilder play, “Our Town.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. North last performed the show in 1985 and also in 1946 as Columbus High School.
Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.
Tickets: $6 in advance at bcsc.k12.in.us/northdrama and $8 at the door.
Stage Managers: Lily Johnson, Grace Hester, Lauren Frederick, Grace Hester.
The Gibbs Family: Mrs. Gibbs, Emily Sipes; Dr. Gibbs, Tiger Lee;
George Gibbs: Ciaran Hill
The Webb Family: Mrs. Webb, Brittany Davis; Mr. Webb, Sam Beggs; Emily Webb, Julia Iorio.